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Researchers discover how plants play defense

Updated: 2020-08-31 (China Daily)

A Shanghai research team has discovered the mechanism through which plants respond to threats from pathogens, which could pave the way for creating plant resistance to pathogen-caused diseases while maintaining a high crop yield, scientists said.

According to the paper, which was published on the website of US-based journal Cell on Monday, scientists found that when the plant detects the presence of a pathogen, certain proteins near the cell wall will respond and the cell's nucleus will initiate an appropriate defense by adjusting which genes are activated.

The team was made up of Chinese and foreign scientists at the Shanghai Center for Plant Stress Biology, part of the Center for Excellence in Molecular Plant Sciences Affiliated with the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Before their research, scientists understood that throughout evolution, plants have developed mechanisms to perceive the presence of a pathogen threat and mount responses to deter or eliminate the invading organism. But how the information travels into the cells remained unclear.

The scientists also found that the route used to transmit information inside the plant cell can be "hijacked" by pathogens.

Some proteins from plant viruses and pathogenic bacteria can mimic the behavior of the plant proteins, hampering the activation of defense responses and tilting the balance in favor of the invading microbe, said Rosa Lozano Duran, a leading researcher on the team from Spain.

"The finding that different kinds of pathogens have evolved similar strategies to take advantage of this plant pathway and utilize it to suppress plant defense in turn proves the core role that this pathway plays in transmitting the information of external threats from viruses, bacteria and fungi," said Duran, who has worked with the Shanghai-based center since 2015.

Duran said the team will seek collaboration to find applications for the research results.

"Pathogens cause dramatic losses in crop production worldwide, posing a threat to food security. Results obtained in this work suggested that it is possible to increase the strength of plant defense responses to attacking microbes without affecting productivity in the absence of pathogens, hence potentially improving plant health without compromising plant growth," she said.